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Tunnel Vision - 2003
By David M. Dorey
December 29, 2003
 
Sunday Salutes
Quarterbacks Yards TD
Matt Hasselbeck 315 2
Donovan McNabb 258 4
Tom Brady 204 4
Running Backs Yards TD
LaDainian Tomlinson 260 2
Ahman Green 227 2
Edgerrin James 206 1
Wide Receivers Yards TD
Chris Chambers 153 1
Donte' Stallworth 114 1
Derrick Mason 90 2
Tight Ends Yards TD
Jed Weaver 58 1
Tony Gonzalez 54 1
Casey Fitzsimmons 36 1
Placekickers XP FG
Gary Anderson 3 4
John Kasay 4 3
Jason Hanson 3 3
Defense/Special Teams TDs Sacks TOs
Carolina 2 2 5
Green Bay 2 3 3
Oakland 2 3 0

Week 17 Bumps, Bruises and Bow-outs

QB Marc Bulger - Bruised forearm
QB Rex Grossman - Injured right hand
RB Brian Westbrook - Torn Triceps muscle
RB Najeh Davenport - Strained neck

We be Jammin'

Jamal Lewis came within 39 yards of breaking the all-time single season rushing record of Eric "Whew" Dickerson when he ended with 114 yards on 27 carries against the Steelers. Lewis now holds the second all-time mark with 2066 yards rushing in one season and he missed it by less than the width of a football field. Notable too is that he comes off the best season ever for a running back that had blown his knee out only two years ago.

He woke from his coma, read the paper, and now he's gone again...

Trying to keep up with the ever-changing NFL is a study in dynamics of what happens when Big Business meets orchestrated riots with a bit of Chaos Theory thrown in. Let's consider a few of many tidbits that signify getting comfortable in the NFL just never happens.

The Bills open the season by throttling the Patriots 31-0. In week 17, the two teams met again but the Patriots were on the heels of an eleven game win streak and the Bills were only 6-9 on the year. By the time the Patriots were finished, they had exactly reversed the 31-0 drubbing that started their season. Proof positive that it only matters where you end up.

At the end of the 2002 regular season, there were eight divisional winners but of those, only two (Philadelphia and Green Bay) won their division again. Green Bay needed an improbable loss by the Vikings to Arizona to get back. Of the twelve teams that went to the playoffs last season, eight of them did not return to the post season this year.

The Buccaneers come off a Superbowl in 2002 with the greatest defense of the decade. They still ended as the 4th best defense in allowing points, but were only 18th best in scoring points and ended with a losing record for 2003 of 7-9. By the end of the season, the only players of note left from those that started were Keenan McCardell and Brad Johnson who "tailed off badly" at the end. They replaced Pittman with Thomas Jones and dumped Keyshawn mid-season.

The Raiders came in this year as the AFC Champs for 2002. They had to draft 31st in April as the second best record and in 2004 they again will be only one spot from the turn except this time they are the second worst team in the NFL.

Those Raiders were the best passing team in the league last season. They ended this year with a total of 35 yards passing in week 17.

At the end of last year, we were talking about hot players like Marc Boerigter, Michael Vick, Donald Driver, Peerless Price and many more. Would Priest Holmes ever play again? Would the Raiders encourage all teams to just throw every down?

The running back was becoming a hot property after last season because there were not enough to go around. This season saw 18 break the 1000 yards rushing mark and 26 of them gain over 1000 yards in total yardage. After last season made the pass look like the thing to do, we had a runner score 27 touchdowns and another one rush for 2064 yards. Six of the tailbacks ran for over 1500 yards and one was Fred Taylor in an odd-numbered year.

The receivers were plenty after last season and there were so many that did well we all knew we could wait in our drafts and still get quality like David Boston, Donte' Stallworth, Marty Booker or Rod Gardner. Week 17 of this season was the final peg in the receiver coffin - only Donte' Stallworth, Marcus Robinson and Chris Chambers turned in 100+ yards in their season finale. Stallworth had been gone most the year and faced the #1 defense, Robinson was not even drafted and Chambers teased with only one big week this year.

This was destined to be the first year ever without a rookie running back of note. No one sent that memo to Domanick Davis who spent most of the summer injured. Everyone knew Thomas Jones was a bust and that Brian Westbrook was too small to do much. Rudi Johnson was just a name behind Brandon Bennett. With guys like Amos Zereoue, Trung Canidate or Charlie Garner around - why would we care?

Not to worry - some speculate this will be one of the biggest off-seasons for swapping head coaches and assistant staffs so even more will be changing next season. Add in a new draft class, some salary cap purges and it'll all start over next year.

Last Rites

Marshall Faulk's single season touchdown record finally died of natural causes with a two touchdown service by Priest Holmes on Sunday. Not bad for a guy that was compared to Bo Jackson this time last season.

IKU elects new chief

The brotherhood of the Idiot Kickers Union has elected Mike Vanderjagt as their new President after he kicked his NFL record 41st consecutive field goal to beat the Texans and give the Colts the AFC South title. Should he not be able to fill his duties due to embarrassing remarks on Canadian radio shows, the Vice President Jeff Wilkins will gladly stand in.

Drama 101 - Somebody has to laugh, somebody has to cry

Comedy Lineup Yards TDs Tragedy Lineup Yards TDs
QB Joshua McCown 224 2 QB Brad Johnson 96 0
RB Lee Suggs 186 2 RB Tiki Barber 37 0
RB Rock Cartwright 96 1 RB Deuce McAllister 55 0
WR Nathan Poole 86 1 WR Tory Holt 54 0
WR Alex Bannister 53 1 WR Chad Johnson 29 0
WR Cedrick Wilson 50 1 WR Marvin Harrison 34 0
PK Jason Hanson 3 FG, 3 XP PK Ryan Lindell

Nope

Huddle Fantasy Points = 106

Huddle Fantasy Points = 22

Just to whet your 2004 whistle

Picture this - in your 2004 draft you have the first overall pick. Who do you choose?

LaDainian Tomlinson who comes off a 2370 yard, 17 touchdown effort on a team that did little to help him?

Clinton Portis who had 14 touchdowns and 1905 yards on a team that will probably be better next season, knowing that he can score on any play?

Priest Holmes who has scored over 50 touchdowns in the past two seasons?

Jamal Lewis that just set the second greatest rushing season in NFL history?

Ahman Green who 20 touchdowns and 2250 yards this season?

After you throw in Shaun Alexander (16 TDs), Deuce McAllister (2157 yards), maybe Ricky Williams, Fred Taylor and Edgerrin James, I can only offer you two words of advice - "trade down".

Sunday's Couch Commentary

BUF 0, NE 31 After winning 31-0 in Buffalo, the Bills end with a 0-31 spanking that completes the circle. Gregg Williams will get the axe for having too many "G"'s in his name and not enough "W"s in the standings, Bledsoe adopts a "maybe they will not see me standing over here" stance while the Patriots are on a roll that looks frighteningly like it may require the schedule for 2004 to see where their next loss may be.
SEA 24, SF 17 The worst road team meets the best home team so only naturally the road team wins. They use Koren "WHY NOW?" Robinson while Kevan "WHY NOW?" Barlow sprains an ankle and the 49ers look like a team without Terrell Owens that evidently they need to get used to being anyway. Seahawks advance to the playoffs thanks to the stars falling their way while the 49ers finally unwrapped their long passing game after 15 games of anticipation. Maybe that free agent guy Owens should come in for a workout.
PHI 31, WAS 7 Eagles end the season with a homefield gift from the Rams and lose Westbrook in the process. Eagles have lost Vincent and Emmons and Westbrook. They cannot stop the run. But fortunately they will not be hosting any dynasties in January so you just never know. The Redskins end without a quarterback or a running back, but with the same coach that will be back next season, or in Miami, or on the golf course. Flip a coin.
CLE 22, CIN 14

BUT WE BELIEVED! WE BELIEVED! It's like Lucy holding that damn football asking us to kick it. It's like saying there really is no Sant... hmmm.. and to think the Easter Bunny will not have a great draft pick this year either...

JAX 14, ATL 21 Let's see if we have this straight. The Jaguars finally have Fred Taylor playing the role of a 16 game running back who ends 6th in rushing yards, Smith is back and Kevin Johnson is there. Defense is better. But still cannot win on the road. The Falcons, on the other hand, started okay, then sucked, then really, really sucked, seemed to be getting better then became catastrophically sucky, axed the coach that got them to a Super Bowl, then got much better, then much worse and by now I am swearing to sort this all out next July.
TB 13, TEN 33 The end does not come with a bang or a whimper, but with Brad Johnson throwing seven interceptions in the last two games and handing off the Shaun King who hands it off to Thomas Jones but cannot throw to Keyshawn Johnson who joins Warren Sapp on the market next year. I mean Gruden does not even seem mad anymore. The Titans win with Neil O'Donnell and Eddie George will return next year because no one wants to be the one to tell him he was cut a few seasons ago and besides, it would take him forever to walk the box with his stuff all the way to his car.
DAL 7, NO 13 The #1 offense appears to be matched with the #32 rushing game but at least has the #1 turnover machine at quarterback. The Tuna defense cannot handle the Saints when Horn is gone and McAllister is banged up. The Tuna offense cannot handle the Saints when their defense is composed of castoffs, subs and a guy they found on Bourbon Street begging for change to get back home. But hey - they are better so do not get lost in the big picture here. Hambrick gets to start his first - and only - playoff game.
NYJ 21, MIA 23 Curtis Martin ends the season by scoring his second touchdown of the year and having a big yardage game two weeks ago. This is like acing the 18th hole even though you are about 48 strokes over par. Hmmm... maybe next time it will all be good! Yeah! My sleeper! Mount Moss has already erupted, the lava has cooled and the foliage is starting to grow again to cover the event. The Fins end with Ricky having the most carries in the NFL this season. Now about that whole "winning to get to the playoffs thing". Maybe Spurrier will understand.
CHI 3, KC 31 Bears run through all three quarterbacks and yet Booker is starting to look kinda good again. Dick Jauron makes a mental note - when job is on the line, do NOT end up playing in KC. Holmes not only takes the all-time single season TD record, he also makes that little "grab Larry Johnson and we'll feast like Kings" strategy look a little silly four months later. Chiefs end season still searching under the Christmas tree for a good defense on the road or wideouts that appear more than every three weeks.
IND 20, HOU 17 Someone run and get Peyton - the ride was not over in week 15! There is still more! Edgerrin still looking good now that Jamal Lewis has removed the "bad knee" excuse. Houston leaves 2003 with a sense of hope and a promise of the future. If they add a defense to that, they might do something next season. Marvin Harrison started the season red-hot and then he just started to
STL 20, DET 30 The Rams lose a greatly needed homefield advantage as evidenced by this game. Bulger leaves Detroit with a VIN stamped to his chest while the rest of his team spends the entire flight home repeating "the lions, the freaking lions, man". Steve Mariucci has gotten by with so little for so long that he wraps up 2003 using nothing to beat the Rams. "We beat the Rams", said Mariucci, "I fail to recall playing in any other games this season".
OAK 14, SD 21 The Raiders suspend Garner before the game, thereby saving him from the embarrassment of playing in a game that featured only 35 yards passing against the worst defense in the NFL. The Raiders change their 2004 goal from "Commitment to Excellence" to "heck, let's shoot for mediocrity" even though such lofty heights seem unattainable. Tomlinson becomes the Tiger Woods of the NFL - everyone else around him are just caddies and he usually turns in the lowest score card. . San Diego should carry him into the stadium with throne bearers and then all stay on the sidelines so as to not get in his way.
CAR 37, NYG 24 Panthers tool up for a bit of revenge next week against the Cowboys against a NY Giant team that is now entirely made up of substitutes since all the regulars were all in line to see "Lord of the Rings". Fassel prepares to hit the retread road while the over/under on week 17 starting players that make week 1 of 2004 stands at about 7 players. Season ends at the right time - Fassel has now ran out of ways to avoid the word "sucks".
DEN 3, GB 31 This is what happens when you do not use any of your normal starting lineups. Could have just asked Fassel instead. Packers whack on the no-names and Green sticks another 98 yards in his wallet on only one play. Favre takes up where Manning left off.
PIT 10, BAL 13 Sure, Jamal Lewis ran past 2000 yards and ended up just short of Eric Dickerson but the game only had one offensive touchdown scored. Steelers get bonus points on degree of difficulty and creativity for their fake punt touchdown but we were all there to watch Jamal anyway. Steelers slink back to Pittsburgh with Jerome Bettis still willing to gain 3 yards a carry next year during the times he is not hurt.

Game-O-The-Week

Winner: Minnesota 17, Arizona 18

There can be no greater symbol for this season than this one game.

This is the posterchild of "Huh?" for 2003, a game that featured the #32 defense going against the #1 offense. The Vikings had everything on the line - win and they take the division, lose and it's snowblowing the driveway in January in a very bad mood.

The Vikings trailed 6-0 at the half even though Marcel Shipp was banged up and Joshua McCown was the quarterback. The Vikings managed to take a 17-6 lead with only 6:48 left to play. Change the channel because this one is over. I mean it was close, seemingly, but the Vikes woke up and will host the Seahawks in a week.

Then Josh McCown completes a pass on fourth and six to Boldin for a first down at midfield. A couple of sacks shrewdly mixed with a defensive holding call and a big 37 yard pass to Nathan Poole and with under three minutes the Cardinals are at the MIN 11-yard line. After three plays, McCown runs to the right after almost getting sacked and chucks the ball to Steve Bush for a score. 12-17? Really?

Knowing that they can get a two point conversion to draw within a field goal, the Cardinals naturally fail to convert as Emmitt is splatted on the one yard line. Still 12-17.

With only 1:54 left to play, they try an onside kick. It bounces off a Viking player before the Cardinals recover at their own 39-yard line. On first down, McCown tries to throw to Bryant Johnson but CB Denard Walker is called for pass interference. With a minute and 46 seconds left, the Cardinals are on the MIN 31-yard line.

Three passes later, they are on the MIN 9-yard line with only 39 seconds left. McCown is sacked for an 8 yard loss. On third down, he is sacked for a nine yard loss and fumbles the ball which eventually is recovered at the MIN 28-yard line. On fourth and 25 yards to go, from the 28-yard line with only 4 seconds left to play, the Vikings come on a rush and just miss McCown who then scrambles to his right. Just before he is hit, he chunks the ball into the corner of the endzone where Nathan Poole catches it and is forced out of bounds - the call is a touchdown and replay does not overturn it.

Had the onside kick failed - it is over.
Had the pass interference call not happened - it is over.
Had any of the fourth down tries failed - it is over.
Had McCown not wriggled out of a sack on that final play - it is over.
Had Denard Walker just turned around and seen the ball coming in the endzone - it is over.
Had the defenders not hit Poole at all, he would have likely come down out of bounds and - it is over.

Nope. Like a fated chain of events, everything fell into place for the Cardinals as the Vikings fell out of first place with perhaps their most sour loss ever.

It ended a regular season that showed there really is no #1 offense or #32 defense. There is no way to just draw lines and expect the outcomes to follow history. It is all about the game and more than that, it is about every single play. One thing leads to another and it only takes one bad link to break the chain. It almost always ends up broken but there is nothing that merits "always" in the NFL. Not this year.

And like a chain, we come to the end of our season. The Tunnel Vision will be ending this week though The Huddle will continue on with playoff projections, predictions and assorted material. Thanks for letting me share my reviews and rants this year and let's all look forward to next season when we can draft Tomlinson. I mean Jamal. No - maybe Priest. Or Ahman. Clinton?

Argh - be careful out there and enjoy the post-season and then that long stretch I refer to as "not football". I'll be back next season - hope you will too.

Now get back to work...